Photographer reaches 25-year milestone but still learning

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 11, 2010

NATCHEZ — For the past 25 years T.G. McCary has been clicking right along, and if he has his way the clicking won’t stop anytime soon.

In 25 years as a professional photographer, McCary said he’s never shied away from experimentation and, with ever-changing digital technology, that attitude is more important than ever.

“It is no longer enough to just be a good photographer,” McCary said. “Now that we are in the digital age, everyone is good, but to make it you have to be exceptional.”

For McCary that means stretching his creative reaches using different papers and processes to make sure his portraits and photography make the leap from a picture to a piece of artwork.

“What I want to create is a piece of art that just happens to be your child or grandchild,” he said. “When it is hanging in a house, it looks like art and not just a picture.

“Portrait photography has moved past just a record of what someone looked like.”

What McCary said families like now is something more personal and more special.

McCary began his career in Natchez shortly after finishing school at the University of Southern Mississippi. He had his first studio on Main Street, but moved to his current location, 1 207 Main St., 20 years ago.

“There is not a better place for portrait photography than in Natchez,” he said. “You go in to these houses and there are portraits that are 120, 150 years old. There is just a great history of portraitures in this city. That combined with the beauty of the city and the people, made this the perfect place to have my career.”

If it is possible to print a photograph on it, McCary has probably tried it.

Within the last year, McCary has begun printing his photographs on bark paper, the oldest paper in the western hemisphere and Egyptian papyrus, the oldest paper in the world.

Using different papers, McCary said the textures and details of a photograph are enhanced.

But when first beginning to use the use bark paper and Egyptian papyrus, McCary wasn’t sure he’d be happy with the result, but that didn’t stop him from trying.

“I’ve got a stack of paper this thick that didn’t work out,” he said holding his hands a foot apart. “But when something does work, it is magic. You can’t let not knowing the result stop you from challenging yourself. When you do that you are done.”

That is probably the best lesson, McCary has learned in 25 years of photography in Natchez.

He said he is almost constantly trying new techniques, attending artist trade shows and workshops and working with different artists to increase his skill set.

“I find myself now working more with contemporary artists than photographers,” McCary said. “They are the ones that challenge me the most to think outside the box and try new things.”

McCary said trying new things doesn’t always work, but even failed experiments help him to further his abilities.

“You never learn anything if you aren’t willing to try,” he said.

And he said he has tried a lot in his 25 years of business.

From his days using the heavy and cumbersome Mamiya RB67, McCary said photography has changed in ways he never even fathomed.

“I never would have believed the things photographers are able to do now, when I first got into the business,” McCary said. “And the beginning of the digital world, really transformed photography. Things are changing so fast now, there is no telling what will be available next.”

But McCary said there is one thing he is sure of — he’ll be ready to learn whatever comes next.